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Album of the Month: Panda Bear & Sonic Boom - Reset

The art of sampling in music has made its way across genre lines and cultures since its early technological beginnings. From musique concrète compositional technique, to the earliest digital synthesizers like the Fairlight CMI, whose founders coined the term “sampling” for the keyboard’s ability to take in a pre-recorded sounds and manipulate it, to the digital sampler pads that disseminated hip-hop production method to the masses, music built on little pieces of other music or sound has become a common and sometimes critical part of musical creation and progress. For Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, this has become a common thread amongst solo works and his longtime band, Animal Collective. His 2007 landmark album Person Pitch codified his textural, hazy production style, with fragments of noise (identifiable or otherwise) receiving equal attention with 60’s pop song snippets. In the time since, he’s recruited fellow psychedelic explorer Sonic Boom (aka Peter Kember, formerly of English astral-rock cadets Spacemen 3) as a co-producer on multiple albums since 2011, which brings us to Reset, the duo’s first full-fledged collaboration.

Music from the late 50’s and early 60’s have been a longtime influence on both musicians here, most audibly in Panda Bear in his vocal performance and arrangement style. Reset takes a direct look at these foundational sounds by making them the framework where new songs are built. The size of the sample is often very small; take for example “Go On,” which takes the bouncy garage of The Troggs’ “Give It To Me” and hones in on the tension of its first few bars, turning a two-chord intro into a world of anticipation musically and lyrically. That kind of magnifying glass on a short phrase is sent to ecstatic places in “Livin’ in the After,” which centers on a string-filled passage from the Drifters classic “Save The Last Dance For Me.” This little snippet from the original song’s end is intensified with extra percussion, whistles, and layered harmonies from Panda Bear. The album has songs without samples as well, still retaining the vibe of the period pop music they’re paying tribute to in songs like “In My Body,” which channels familiar shuffles and vocals but with a much more forward-thinking production style than the duo’s 60’s touchpoints. The pairing of Panda Bear’s floating tenor with Sonic Boom’s rich baritone is especially fitting for the material they’re mining, where their two approaches can compliment and converse with each other, like in “Everyday,” where they create a trance-like call and response. The pair know when a simple repetition is exactly the right thing to do.

As longtime students of music of the past, Panda Bear and Sonic Boom have the spirit and sonics of the songs they’re paying homage to in their blood by now. Look no further than “Edge of the Edge,” a flip of the Randy and the Rainbows hit “Denise” complete with new harmonies, sing-along choruses, and doo-wop runs alike, for evidence that this style is second nature for the duo; I admittedly had no idea this was sample-based until several listens later. The love and appreciation for these old sounds artfully turned new again shines bright across the album, with an infectious joy as potent now as it was decades ago. Have a listen to Reset as the seasons are changing, you’ll feel as reminiscent for the 60’s as you might for our recently-departed summer.

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Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.